French police use tear gas as yellow vests return to Paris

French CRS riot police officers walk past a burning car during a demonstration of the yellow vests movement in Paris, France

French authorities deployed a heavy police presence in Paris and used tear gas on Saturday as the “yellow vest” movement returned to the capital after being dampened by the coronavirus crisis.

Several hundred demonstrators gathered at two squares in Paris for authorised marches. One cortege set off without incident but the other march was delayed after police used tear gas to disperse protestors who left the designated route and some of whom set fire to waste bins and a car.

The authorities had banned protests in a central zone including the Champs-Elysees, the scene of rioting at the height of the yellow vest movement nearly two years ago when anger over fuel taxes and President Emmanuel Macron’s style of rule brought hundreds of thousands onto the streets across France.

Police said they had made 154 arrests by 1 pm local time (1100 GMT).

The renewed mobilisation of the yellow vests, named after motorists’ high-visibility jackets that became the symbol of the movement, comes as France is grappling with a resurgence in cases of the novel coronavirus.

The country’s daily cases of COVID-19 set a record high on Thursday at nearly 10,000, while the number of people being treated in hospital has increased steadily this month.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced on Friday plans to speed up testing and toughen measures in certain cities, but said the government wanted to avoid a nationwide lockdown like during the spring.

Police called on Saturday’s demonstrators to respect sanitary measures in Paris, which is among France’s coronavirus “red zones” and where it is compulsory to wear a face mask in the street everywhere in the city.

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